Proprietary vs. Non-Proprietary Building Automation Systems

November 10, 2020 By Mid-Atlantic Controls 3 minute read

Building Automation Systems (BAS) are typically classified as either proprietary (closed) or non-proprietary (open). Proprietary systems integrate exclusively with equipment and software produced by the company that manufactured the system, while non-proprietary building control systems can integrate with a variety of different equipment manufacturers and software platforms. As advocates for open platforms systems, we’ll do our best to shed a little light on both types of systems, as well as a few of the advantages and disadvantages to both open and closed systems.

Handcuffs on wooden tableDrawbacks to Purchasing a Proprietary (Closed) Building Automation System

Imagine for a moment that you were purchasing a car that could only be serviced and cared for by the dealership that sold you the car, using parts exclusively created by that dealer’s manufacturer. You’d lose the ability to purchase parts from the local auto parts store, and your local mechanic would no longer be able to handle even the easiest tune-ups and oil changes.

The problem with closed BAS systems is that you lose the freedom of choice. Regardless of not being able to select desired equipment, don’t you want the ability to decide who maintains and services your system year after year? What do you do when a vendor charges too much or does a lousy job? You fire them, right? What if they just aren’t as responsive as you’d like them to be? Well, too bad. When you get locked into a closed platform BAS system, you also get locked into whatever service plans and technicians that go along with that manufacturer.

Some of the other drawbacks to using a proprietary BAS system include a lack of options and the problem of getting outfitted with a system that might not be the best fit for your building. Closed systems have a limited selection of equipment, and there could be scenarios in which a customer is outfitted with the most viable option available from that manufacturer, while a better fit was available on the market. A closed BAS system also might have limited upgrade options, forcing the customer to purchase an entirely new system instead of a less expensive legacy upgrade.

Are There Any Benefits to Choosing a Proprietary (Closed) Building Control System?

If there is any benefit to a closed platform system, it’s that you’re dealing with a single company and likely the same service technician year after year. Over time, your facilities team could potentially become more familiar with the equipment and mechanical components and might be able to identify issues and problems easier. In reality, there is no reason these same advantages couldn’t be true for non-proprietary providers.

What Are the Benefits of Purchasing a Non-Proprietary (Open) Building Control System?

Open building control systems are designed to integrate with a range of equipment and software platforms and can be serviced by any qualified service technician. It’s possible to combine existing equipment with new equipment seamlessly, regardless of manufacturer, because open platform BAS equipment gets built to specifications that allow interchangeability. Being able to create a control system that fits the needs and budget of the customer is the most significant benefit open BAS systems have over their closed counterpart.

Are There Any Disadvantages to Non-Proprietary (Open) Building Automation Systems?

If you’ve already invested the upfront cost in a proprietary building automation system, you’re better off staying with that company until your system becomes obsolete or isn’t functioning. The upfront cost of any BAS outweighs the advantages of replacing that system, until such time that the system is no longer useful. The only disadvantage to open systems is that they can’t tie in with all these different proprietary systems, but the manufacturers of those proprietary systems design their equipment this way on purpose to lock people into only being able to use their equipment. Fortunately, more and more of the proprietary manufacturers are seeing the advantages of open communication, and many have started offering industry open standard versions. Ultimately, the more companies that move toward the open standard, the better off consumers will be.

If you’re in the market to purchase a new BAS, you’re much better off buying a system built using the industry open standard. If you’ve already purchased a closed building automation system, sorry, but you’re better off sticking with that system for the foreseeable future. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about the difference between open and closed building automation systems, or take our Performance Challenge to help determine if the system in your building is proprietary or non-proprietary.

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